In modern times, Halloween has become a festive celebration known predominantly as a bit of annual fun (albeit the creepy variety). On 31st October, people all around the world decorate their houses in ghoulish style, carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, and get dressed up in costumes for some ‘trick or treating’ & candy collection. The way we celebrate today is markedly different from the Gaelic Samhain festival Halloween first originated from.
Despite the fact Halloween is bigger in America than anywhere else in the world, the US is not the country the festival has its roots in. In fact, it started a long, long time ago in Europe. Whilst there has been some debate amongst historians, many believe that Halloween is actually an evolution of an old Celtic harvest festival known as the Samhain festival. Keep reading to hear all about how Halloween originated from Pagan Gaelic roots to the annual event we know and love today.
Turning Back The Clock
The origin story of Halloween starts some two thousand years ago in Europe. The Celtic people once lived across most of Europe in the Iron Age, though today their descendants are typically found in the Celtic nations of Ireland, Wales and Scotland - as well as the Celtic regions of Cornwall (England), and Brittany (France).
Back then, the end of the Fall harvest also marked the start of a new year. The Celts also believed that at this time of the year, the veil between the living world and the world of the dead became thin, meaning it was a period when people could more easily commune with spirits. To celebrate this festival and respect the dead, people would light bonfires in honor of those who had passed on – and these weren’t the only spooky goings on during the Samhain festival.
As the Celts perceived there to be an increased spiritual presence on earth at the end of the Autumn harvest, their priests believed they could more accurately predict the future during this time. Crops and animals would be burned as sacrifices to the Pagan gods and townspeople and villagers would dress up in all manner of animal skins and masks to mark the special occasion (spooky costumes, sound familiar anyone?).
Of course, Halloween has gone through many transformations since this ancient Gaelic period - the first significant change was brought about by the Roman Empire. They too had an October celebration known as ‘Feralia’, and - strangely enough - this festival was also associated with the passing of the dead. So, while the hallmarks of the celebration changed as the Romans took over of the Celt’s territory, the association with spirits and the dead continued to stay in place.
The Roman Empire converted to Christianity around 313 A.D. and so began the creeping conversion to Christianity across Europe to boot. While this change in religion took quite a few centuries to fully take hold, the Roman Catholic church sought to banish old Halloween traditions and replace them with new, Christian celebrations.
So, by 1000 A.D. ‘All Saints Day’ was born. Celebrated on the 1st of November, it was a time to pray for all the saints who had passed on and this date was followed by ‘All Souls Day’ on the 2nd of November which commemorated the faithfully departed. Halloween, as we know it, came as a precursor to saint’s day which was also known as ‘All Hallows’ making the 31st of October, ‘All Hallows Eve’ (which is where we get the word we use today!).
Old Traditions Die Hard
While the Christian celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day still have that vital connection to the world of the dead, traditions seldom fade away so easily. Across Europe - especially in the UK and Ireland - many people continued the tradition of telling spooky ghost stories, laying out food for the dead and dressing up in scary costumes to mark Hallow’s Eve.
These traditions became ingrained in the public psyche so that many centuries later in the 1800s when the potato famine struck Ireland, Irish immigrants who left for America brought their Halloween festivities with them. By the end of the nineteenth century in America, ghostly celebrations were becoming evermore common and mischief-making was all the rage come the evening of the 31st.
Halloween As We Know It
Now you can understand fully where the Halloween tradition comes from and how it’s exploded into the huge celebration that it currently is in modern day America. ‘Trick or treating’ has been hugely popular since the 1950s, and who needs an excuse for some extra candy? If you’re looking to make your costume a little more glamorous this year, or simply want to keep some protective gemstones (such as amethyst and tanzanite) on your person for this creepy evening, you should go and check out our vast range of jewelry available online.